The news has been abuzz recently with several major food companies making some pretty major announcements: Campbell’s and Del Monte are removing Bisphenol A from their canned food products. Del Monte is also dropping genetically modified organisms (GMOs), while ConAgra, Kellogg’s, and Mars Inc., are amongst the first—but certainly not the last—to announce they’ll begin to label the presence of GMOs in their products.
But if you’re Marci Zaroff and Eric Schnell, all that’s good news, but it's not good enough—it’s just the tip of the iceberg of what brands can really do to make a difference with products.
The duo want to make "conscious products" the new "it" category for the organic and natural industry.
Industry veterans—Zaroff, a pioneer in the organic fashion industry and founder of Under the Canopy, among other things, and Schnell, co-founder of organic, Fair Trade beverage companies Steaz and I AM—the couple, married now nearly five years, say it’s time to use their industry leverage to take the natural and organic products industry even further. They’re doing that with their latest venture, BeyondBrands, which they’ve dubbed a “SuperTribe” of industry veterans and experts committed to raising the consciousness of both companies and consumers.
“The next generation of entrepreneurs,” says Zaroff, “are no longer willing to accept business as usual,”— even if that business means organic and GMO labeling quickly becoming the norm.
To Zaroff and Schnell and their 60+ team at BeyondBrands, there’s much more companies can—and want—to be doing. BeyondBrands’ core principles align passion, purpose, people, planet, and prosperity in every project.
“By joining forces, we’re bringing together all of these puzzle pieces into one portal--all of these amazing people,” says Schnell. And the goal is to leverage their collective expertise into setting these nascent brands apart from the competition.
But don’t be misled; these aren’t just clever marketing tactics to sell more product—these are intrinsic visionary core values--guiding the couple and their company. Zaroff's and Schnell's off-the-seat enthusiasm is detectable through the phone. "Companies are drawn to us intuitively," says Zaroff, "they know we can help them build the kind of brand they've always imagined."
What gives BeyondBrands its mojo, is that the “SuperTribe”—much like the husband-and-wife founders—believe in something that goes, well, quite beyond current business models. It's outside the box thinking made accessible. If you’ve ever underestimated the power of a small group of people, like Margaret Mead advised against in her famously memed quote, BeyondBrands may just be proof that they do indeed make one hell of a difference.
MetaWear, for example, BeyondBrand's sister company and Zaroff's newest sustainable turnkey venture, is the only U.S.-based cut-and-sew factory that’s also dyeing and printing garments in what she calls a farm-to-finished product focused exclusively on organic, Fair Trade, and sustainable clothing. And she's positioning it to become the premier garment manufacturer for the organic industry, "no one else in the U.S. can do what we're doing there."
Structured a bit like a law firm, BeyondBrands’ 13 co-founders function like junior partners, running different practices but with equity stakes in the company. They pull in members of the extended “SuperTribe” on specific case-by-case needs where their expertise would be most useful. With nearly a dozen clients right now, BeyondBrands works with some pro bono, some of the companies give the team equity, and others work on retainer.
Zaroff and Schnell are also creating a capital arm managed by BeyondBrands, the $20 million Conscious Alliance Fund, that will help great fledgling ideas become even greater products.
What does it mean to be a good corporate citizen? What type of relationship do you have with your suppliers? What should you pay your employees? How do you handle your waste?
These may not seem like big questions, but for BeyondBrands and its clients, it’s just another day in the life of being “mindful," going beyond. That might sound like woo-woo yogaspeak, but it’s language that matters to the founders, the SuperTribe, and the growing number of clients.
And it matters, perhaps most significantly, to consumers who have had enough of trying to get companies to be more transparent, to be more thoughtful, and make better products--not just because consumers are demanding them, but because the companies themselves actually believe in them. Consumers are lining up to embrace brands that offer more--even if that "more" is a value that goes the other way, down the supply chain, or back into the environment, for example, rather than a deep discount or economy size product for the consumer.
Of course, you can’t just have a client with great values. You’ve got to have incredible products, too. And BeyondBrands says its currently working with three clients that are “first innovation” categories, including an exciting product in the CBD (cannabidiol) category—that's the non-psychoactive medicinal compound igniting a buzz around cannabis, and the ever-popular plant-based protein category, among others.
“We know these are products and companies consumers want in their lives,” Schnell says.
“As husband and wife, all we want to do is create together,” says Zaroff, “it’s been pretty effortless for us as a couple, and we know it can be for brands, too.”
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Image of Marci Zaroff and Eric Schnell courtesy of BeyondBrands